Procrastination is the action of delaying or postponing something that needs to be accomplished. It’s a complex experience that most of us engage in, some of us habitually, with often negative consequences.
We are flooded with books, and studies on the prevalence, types, responses, and methods to, well, avoid procrastinating. So why are so many of us still doing it? What are we gaining by leaving things undone?
Let’s face it, getting into the right mindset every day to deal with the many challenges, pressures, and tasks before us is challenging, and there is no simple answer or formula. Our mind wanders off when what we are doing feels boring. Other things can seem more interesting or meaningful. Our minds also just like to meander and be engaged by distractions like social media, chatty co-workers, or our new home environments.
As the time slips away and our lists grow longer with unchecked tasks, we become discouraged and emotional, and it’s hard to push through the noise in our minds that tells us we have failed to live up to our responsibilities. And now we’ve come to the heart of procrastination — that fear of failure is often the very reason we didn’t make the effort all along.
Procrastination is a manifestation of resistance. It allows us to say that we are not giving up on something, we are simply going to do it tomorrow, or next week or even next year, but the intention to do it is still in play. If you put off a task long enough, then you don’t have to face up to the potential (and usually imagined) negative results that come with the perfectionist’s fear. Being a stickler for minor details can lead to an excellent execution, but the stress of getting things “just right” may be too much and cause you to delay completing or even continuing the task.
So, what’s the answer to counteract resistance? For me, it’s obsession. When I am really excited about what I am doing and allow myself to really become caught up in the momentum of the process and visualize my success, I can steal the oxygen from my resistance.
So how do we find our way from resistance to obsession when resistance is a pretty formidable obstacle to even getting started? One of the ways that I have found to create more self-direction and motivation against the self-sabotaging effects of procrastination to invest my activities with more meaning.
How do I accomplish this? By defining my life purposes, and getting passionate about them, I can make sure that I am living them every day even when those life purposes don’t necessarily bring me joy in the moment. If being fit-for-life is one of my life purposes, then I am going to find the time to shop and cook meals that give my body the nutrition it needs to age well. I am also going to exercise even when my day is packed with coaching clients, interviews for my radio show, being a mom, wife, daughter and friend or the many small acts of daily living that we must deal with week in and week out. Sharing my story and experience with a broad audience is one of my life purposes, so creating a home-based work environment that allows me to be balanced and focused fulfills that purpose.
There is a real difference in accomplishing tasks that really matter to you versus activities that you understand must be completed, but feel purposeless. You can appreciate this difference in both enthusiasm for initiating the work, and in the anxiety that is created when you engage in something that really counts.
It’s a compelling dilemma that what matters most to you will tug on you to devote your time and energy, but the resulting fear of a faceplant can also prevent you from moving forward. This happens at every age and every stage, and we are left with that familiar uncomfortable feeling that sits with us whenever we leave something incomplete.
Procrastination is real, debilitating, and we all do it even though we are haunted by that horrible worry with a to-do list in our way. For me to live the life I want to live without a constant fear stalking me, I have learned to be very aware of my tendency to procrastinate so I can stop it as soon as I hear myself rationalizing away required activities.
I know why I procrastinate and when, which helps me to quickly assess and dismiss that underground protest, and move to action. I am most triggered to non-action when I don’t know how to tackle something. When I feel overwhelmed or worse, incapable, my immediate desire is to flee. I understand this first reaction and have learned not to judge myself for it. Instead, I make fear my ally and small steps my foundation.
My first step to get back into the game when a must-do task confuses me is to prioritize it on my schedule for first thing in the day and in the week if it’s something that’s going to require a significant time investment. Coming to the task fresh with enough time to satisfy my natural desire to do it well soothes the anxious thoughts that arise especially when I am taking on something which has high stakes for my life purposes. It also allows me to feel a sense of accomplishment and a freedom to reward myself with some time away from the list when I’ve completed something significant.
I can’t have my picnic on the deserted beach until I figure out how to build the raft that’s going to get me there.
The truth is that sometimes I can’t get it all done on my own. Recognizing that need for assistance and seeking the needed support can also induce procrastination. Even as a trained coach for a diverse client group, who regularly teaches the benefit of gathering your resources, I can be quick to judge myself for not being able to accomplish the task on my own and spend time with thoughts that don’t serve me. Learning to work with the resistance is critical. Resistance is powerful, but the truth is that your mind provides the only fuel. So, don’t fuel the fear and panic. Fuel the solution to action.
I find that meditating first thing in the morning allows me to really inhabit my life purpose activities and other required tasks before I even set the agenda. I envision myself completing one task and then another, and in doing so, feel the wave of positive energy about myself from that success. The body can follow the mind’s path from planning to action.
Those moments allow me to elevate the tasks to something more ceremonial and essential and give me that extra boost of self-direction and purpose. You can do this throughout the day with each activity, creating a bridge from the simple list to a real sense of achievement, and relief.
In these uncertain times, many of us fear making significant changes in our lives. I feared what it would be like to go back to my fitness studio after being in quarantine for three months. My mind started to spin. Would anyone even return? Would we be able to make everyone comfortable in the studio with the new mandates? The whole idea seemed daunting and my thoughts catastrophized the possibilities so much that I put off the opening for an additional week.
I allowed myself to move through these fears without judging myself. It’s natural to be afraid. And it’s natural for that fear to block us from movement until we step right up to the fear and say, “I’m coming through. Are you coming along?” I found additional courage from the support of family, friends and clients and soon felt more comfortable and confident that we would be able to function in this new normal. I grabbed my fear by the hand and unlocked the studio doors and left procrastination on the sidewalk.
Last summer, I made global news for being the oldest contestant ever in the Sports Illustrated Swim Search and finished in the top 60 out of 10,000 much younger women. I had so many women of all ages reach out to me with questions in the following months about how I stayed in shape and what I ate every day to look physically strong, sexy and youthful.
There was a clear need and a demand for me to begin programs for women beyond my studio. It recognized that it was time for me to take that next step, but even with a plan and purpose, my resistance immediately moved forward and tried to talk me out of my enthusiasm and commitment. “There are so many programs out there,” she said. “And they’re created by celebrities. So why you?” “Why me?,” I replied. “Why me? Because I am every woman and I know that it is never too late to live the life you want and choose how to age and how to fully experience the one body that we’ve been given. I know how to do this, and I plan to share my strategies with the world.”
I chose the thoughts that served me and the needs of my clients near and far. With this, my obsession and belief, moved my resistance to the side. She didn’t go quietly, but she eventually paved the way for me to expand my Jodifit program beyond my brick-and-mortar studio space to a global internet audience who embrace a fit-for- life mentality for their physical, emotional, sexual, and financial wellbeing.
You don’t have to be trapped in a cycle of maybe another time. Let resistance strengthen you. Today is the day. Let’s get started.
Jodi Harrison-Bauer is owner of the award-winning JodiFit on 1208 Main Street in Branford. She entered the Sports Illustrated 2019 swimsuit competition, placing in the top 60 out of over 5,000 women less than half her age. She’s also a two-time World Fitness America and World Fitness Universe champion.